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13o             A SEARCH IN  SECRET EGYPT
dosed it in, themselves enclosed within lofty crenellated walls, that shut out the world beyond so effectively that this might well have been one of the Quranic courts of Paradise, instead of a court in noisy Cairo, Soft mats ran from pier to pier and squatting or reclining upon them were little groups of grave-faced men; pious, turbaned scholars, perhaps, or poor citizens with plenty of time and little to do. Some prayed, some read; some slept, and others simply lounged. Twittering sparrows darted hither and thither among the rounded columns in excitement when the scholars dropped their studies and brought out their food.
A covered, ornamented, marble fountain stood in the centre of the rourt, its white cupola-shaped roof supported by round columns, inlaid with coloured enamels, while palms raised their tall heads to form a shelter around it. The immense quadrangle presented an attractive picture of simplicity, beauty and tranquillity. Peace, as well as Allah, was its reigning sovereign. One heard, of course, the chirruping and trilling of little birds which had long made their nests under the arched roofs and among the carved capitals of the pillarsóbut their incessant soothing music provided an excellent background for the silence itself. Near the fountain there was a small trough of fresh water, where the feathered songsters perched and preened themselves and satisfied their thirst They splashed their tiny bodies upon the surface, and performed their ablutions like the true believers that they were, and flew off to resume their hereditary occupation of chorus-making.
The bright morning sun thrust huge shadows here and there across the open court, the idlers looked at me, a momentary question in their eyes, to be swiftly dismissed as not worth the trouble of mental effort, and then they went on with the business of graceful idling. The scene I saw to-day was exactly the same scene which some invading helmeted, armoured and triumphant Crusader must h?ve witnessed so many hundred years ago when he dismounted from his prancing horse and entered the old mosque. Cairo is rapidly changing, but its numerous mosques still stand, like so many fortified towers against which the soldiers of modernity dash themselves in vain. And perhaps it is as well that these places should exist to-day, thus reminding our hurried and harried generation of what tranquillity could be found in an epoch when men were a little less clever than they are now. Under those shady palms